From the archives: Taking a journey through AHS’s historic 1965 season
By MICHAEL MURRAY
Editor’s Note: Here at the Americus Times-Recorder, we’re very proud of our area’s rich history of sporting excellence. One of the area’s most celebrated historical periods of athletic prowess was the Americus High School Panthers’ 1965 season, in which the team went undefeated, rolling over opponent after opponent on their way to a sweep of the state championship series.
While delving through our back issues and expansive archives, we have uncovered a wealth of photographs and articles written by former Times-Recorder sports editor, the late Clarence Graddick, during that era.
After dealing the 34-6 defeat to Mitchell County and giving up the team’s first touchdown of the season, the Americus Panthers went on to grab another solid win over the Thomasville Bulldogs before preparing to take on Cook County once more for the region championship.
As the team prepared for the big game, Graddick published a series of articles, detailing the town’s overwhelming excitement and the team’s progress.
“The students and football fans held a large rally in downtown Americus Thursday night on Jackson Street,” Graddick wrote on Nov. 19, 1965. “The Americus High cheerleaders led the group of about 300 in cheers and the pep band supplied music throughout the rally.”
As for the team, Graddick reported that all of the Panthers were in good condition, except for junior halfback, Jerry Plant, who had pulled a leg muscle earlier in the week and would likely not be dressed for the game.
“Americus has been made a slight favorite in the game since the Panthers defeated the Hornets 13-0 in a regular-season game which did not count in region play,” Graddick stated later in the article… Cook had a 6-2-2 overall record on the season as compared to a 9-0-1 record for Americus. Normally, the record can be thrown away when these two teams meet in a game of this caliber.”
Graddick went on to say that the Hornets likely had a bone to pick with the Americus squad, since the Panthers’ 1962 team had edged the Cook County crew 9-8 in that season’s region championship.
The Nov. 20, 1965 edition of the Times-Recorder featured an article describing Dr. Martin Luther King’s efforts to have a trial moved from Atlanta to New York, after he was sued by a New York police officer for alleged slanderous comments regarding a murder that occurred the previous year. The edition’s sports page included an article on the Georgia Bulldogs’ head coach, Vince Dooly’s displeasure at the team’s performance on the practice field as well as advertisements for John Wayne’s newest film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, which was scheduled to be shown at the local Sunset Drive-in.
The page was dominated, however, by a detailed account of the previous evening’s gridiron action. In an article, titled, “Americus wins region title with 14-7 win over Cook”, Graddick recounted the game for Times-Recorder readers. A portion of this article is shared below:
AMERICUS WINS REGION TITLE WITH 14-7 WIN OVER COOK: Faces Thompson Next Week For South Georgia Crown
By CLARENCE GRADDICK
SPORTS EDITOR, TIMES-RECORDER
ALBANY, Ga. – The Americus High Panthers moved out to take the lead and then fought off a determined swarm of Hornets to take a 14-7 victory over Cook County, of Adel, here on Friday night before about 7,000 fans at Mills Memorial Stadium to win the region 1-A Championship.
The Panthers will now play Thompson next week for the South Georgia Championship and the right to take on the North Georgia champion the following week for the state title. Both Thompson and Americus are undefeated, with Thompson having a 10-0-0 record and Americus at 10-0-1.
Americus scored in the second and third quarters before Adel was able to come within seven points midway through the fourth quarter. It was not until Harold Horne intercepted an Abbie Bennett pass with 1:59 left in the game that the Americus fans finally felt the Panthers had the ball game wrapped up.
Both teams displayed hard-hitting abilities… Cook gained more rushing yards (149) than any other team this year. The Hornets were forced to stay on the ground as Americus stopped their air arm, allowing only one completion for five yards, in six throws and intercepted two of these.
REEVES ON OFFENSE
David Reeves led the Americus offense as he ran the ball 11 times to gain 79 yards, tops for the game, and completed five of 16 passes for 67 yards. He threw a pass to Horne for one touchdown, scored another on a seven-yard run, and kicked one extra point…
Bill Chambliss, let halfback, set the stage for the first Americus touchdown as he intercepted a Bennett pass on the Americus 17-yard line on the next to last play in the first quarter.
Twelve plays later, Reeves completed a pass to Horne in the right corner of the end zone to complete the 83-yard march. He also kicked the extra point with 5:34 left in the half. Passes by Reeves of 23 yards, to Chambliss, and a Reeves run of 14 yards were the big gainers in the drive.
A perfect on-side kickoff by Horne with Mike Fennessy falling on the ball at the Cook County 42 opened the second half in grand style for Americus. Just four plays were needed by the Panthers to travel the distance to the goal with Reeves carrying over on a roll-out to the right for the score.
Gary Reeves, the end-playing cousin, with 9:45 left in the period, came in to kick the extra point as David had knocked himself out in diving across the goal line. The Americus fans were shivering with apprehension until he arose under his own power. He had contributed a 20 and 3 yard run in the drive with Horne taking care of the other 12.
Graddick went on to discuss how the Panthers’ early lead “stirred up the Hornets’ nest,” prompting them to play what he described as “inspired ball” for the remainder of the contest. On their answering drive after Americus’ final score, Cook pressed deep into Panther territory, only to be forced to turn the ball over on the 14. The Hornets responded in kind, forcing a Reeves punt that they pushed into the end zone 14 plays later. Americus repelled the Hornets’ assault from there, ending the game with a 14-7 lead.
Graddick wrote that Pete Smith had played what was probably his best game of the season that night, saying that he did a great job at the position of, “defensive tackle as well as his usual top-notch job as center on offense. He seemed to be everywhere on the field and repeatedly made tackles on the Hornet ball carriers.”
The game had proven to be one of the toughest that the Panthers had played that year. Americus’ powerful offense had gained 229 total yards, with 67 coming through the air on five completions. All the while, the Panthers’ determined defenders held Cook to only 154 total yards, five of which were gained on the team’s sole reception of the game. The Panthers earned 12 first downs in the match and caught two interceptions. Cook earned only nine first downs.
It was a costly victory for the Panthers, however, as starting guard, Danny McGowan twisted his knee midway through the second half, ending his participation in the season.
McGowan recently spoke with the Times-Recorder, describing the injury. “I got hit on my knee sideways,” he said. “I thought it was one of their players, but later learned it wasn’t one of their players. Our biggest guy, a tackle, slid off a block and hit me. I saw it on the game film… I got hit right before the end of the first half and I heard it pop.”
Unwilling to let his teammates down, McGowan insisted on returning to the field for the next play. “My knee was wobbling but, you know, you can’t fix stupid,” he continued. “I thought that maybe I could shake it off so I played one more play. Thank goodness it was a pass play and I didn’t have to do a lot. I told them in the huddle. I said, ‘I’m fixing to leave if this doesn’t get better.’ I walked off the field and sat on the bench. The surgeon looked at me and [checked my knee] and he said, ‘You’re through.’ At half-time I went and took a shower and came back to watch from the stands with my girlfriend.”
“Dr. Robinson was our team doctor and he had a friend in Albany that was a surgeon named Addison Freeman…” he added. “I went into the hospital in Albany that night and they did the surgery the next morning. They fixed me up. He said, ‘Later on in life, it might bother you, but you’ll be all right for a while.’ Now, I’m running 5Ks pretty regularly… He did a good job…”
Randy Howard, who played on the team as a sophomore, also spoke with the Times-Recorder recently to discuss the region championship. “We really felt like we could beat them,” Howard said. “Cook County felt like they could take us, too. That one boiled down to a head-knocking game. It came down to who could tackle the hardest, move the fastest, and do the best blocking, passing, and running… It got really scary there for a while, but we felt deep down that we could do it. We knew we had to play very hard for it. That was a very scary night.”
There were a lot of folks there,” Howard continued. Morale was high and spirits were high. The people wanted that title… The Panthers played their hearts out. They gave it all they could to win. That game was harder than it was in Commerce [when the Panthers played for the state title two weeks later]… Both teams were bound and determined that they were going to win.”
Howard went on to describe the Panthers’ triumphant return to Americus after the match, saying, “[When we returned], there were people all out in the parking lots, screaming and yelling… When we got off of the bus, there were people everywhere. It was just fantastic. The morale and the spirit in the community was very high.”
Be sure to visit us next week as we continue to explore the Panthers’ epic 1965 season, with the details of the team’s highly-anticipated match-up against Thompson as the teams battled bitterly for the South Georgia Championship.
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